Fiona Elsa Dent and Viki Holton, both faculty at Ashridge Executive Education and authors of ‘How To Thrive and Survive As A Working Woman: The Coach Yourself Toolkit’ shares their perspectives on career issues faced by women in the Middle East based on their experience of working with many regional women managers who attend Ashridge Business School programmes and events.


For women in the Middle East, things have perhaps moved even more quickly than they have in the West, says Fiona Elsa Dent.  For instance, as little as two decades ago few local women held managerial or leadership positions in organizations in the Middle East. 

According to Dent: “During our executive programmes in the region in the past, it was rare to have even one woman attending. Over the past five years, the proportion of women from the region attending our programmes has grown dramatically and often they outnumber men. Conversations with these women drew our attention to some of the key issues that they experience – many of which are similar to women the world over.”

She calls these career multipliers and career derailers.

The multipliers that relate to women in the Middle East include:

  • Having a good boss. Good bosses come in many guises but most importantly they will offer you support and challenge.
  • Demonstrating determination and tenacity. Giving your all to the job and delivering on your goals and objectives.
  • Being energetic and enthusiastic. Keen, energetic and enthusiastic people tend to be infectious and are an asset to any team or organization.
  • Having a mentor or coach! We all need support to help us build a career.

And the derailers include:

  • Career sacrifice to prioritize children and other family members. Balancing a career with other family responsibilities is by far the most frequently mentioned derailer or barrier for any working woman.
  • An unsupportive or bad boss. They can do more harm to a woman’s confidence and career than any other relationships you have.
  • Male dominated working environment.  This can affect working practices, promotions and the working environment.
  • Being a square peg in a round hole.  Feeling that you either dislike your job or it’s not the job that you thought it would be when you were recruited.

So what can women in the region do to help themselves to thrive and survive?  According to Dent and Holton, there are three key areas that they believe worthy of each and every working woman’s focus:

  • Personal Development.  Investing in your own education and personal development is time well spent and invaluable for building a successful career and working life.  Studying for formal qualifications, attending short programmes and workshops that focus on skill development will undoubtedly contribute to your overall knowledge and ability.  Additionally, searching out career advice either inside or outside your company and joining relevant professional associations, women’s networks and attending appropriate conferences will give you access to people and events that can assist further in your personal development.  But, more than this the investment in your personal development will also help build your self-confidence, reputation and credibility.
  • Circle of Support. We all need support in our career and it is important to understand who it is that supports you and the role that they take.  There are many different roles and the authors have created the “circle of support” which categorizes the most commonly identified supportive relationships:
  • Working Smarter not Harder.  Hard work helps but in the end it is about being smart and career-savvy – having self- belief, demonstrating your confidence, speaking up, contributing, choosing your battles, knowing when to say no, stepping up and above all having a plan for your career.  A lot of women don’t plan or play a fast-forward on their career journey but it’s a crucial skill – many of the successful women the authors interviewed for the book spoke about the importance of career planning.

The advice the authors have is that as a working woman you must take charge and create your own career journey.



About Ashridge Executive Education:

Established in 1959, Ashridge ( is a leading business school for working professionals with an international reputation for leadership development. It is in the 1% of business schools globally accredited by AMBA, EQUIS and AACSB; these are the highly-regarded benchmarks of quality and standards in business education worldwide.

Each year it works with over 6,000 managers from 850 organizations in 60 countries by helping them to develop their leadership capabilities.

Regionally, Ashridge has over 20 years' experience in the Middle East, designing and delivering senior leadership assessment and development projects.


Source: Iris Public Relations DMCC